Kansas lawmakers to mull idea of merit pay for teachers

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TOPEKA (KSNT) – At the beginning of October the Kansas Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in the contentious debate over school finance, but for now, lawmakers are setting their sights on creating a brand new school finance formula.

Governor Sam Brownback recently suggested the state start paying teachers based on performance.

A special 15 member committee has been appointed to craft a brand new school finance formula, and several members on that committee think it sounds like a good way to increase efficiency with state money, but some educators strongly disagree.

“I say the highest paid individual in your school should be your best teacher, period, and I believe that,” said Rep. Ron Highland, a Republican from Wamego and member of that special committee.

It’s an idea that may sound great in principle, but one educators say isn’t feasible.

“Districts work very hard on refining their processes for teacher evaluations and how they work and there are lots of different avenues at arriving at who’s the best teacher, who’s not the best teacher,” said Marcus Baltzell of the Kansas NEA.

Baltzell points out that outside factors like income inequality and life at home also have an impact on student success, and teachers can’t control that.

Some lawmakers don’t buy that argument.

“I can walk into any school and talk to the janitor and I can tell you who the best teacher is in every school. They all know, so telling me you can’t figure that out, I don’t buy that argument,” said Highland.

Kansas isn’t the first state to consider paying teachers based on merit.

States like Florida have done it before using test score, but educators say that’s not desirable either.

“We’re not running a car race, we’re not working in a factory, and so putting that competition piece in place puts a lid on collaboration, puts a lid on innovation,” said Baltzell.

They worry this new idea is about more than just rewarding good teachers.

“The Governor and his allies in the legislature want us to put our eyes on something else, because the state of Kansas is in a revenue crisis, schools are in crisis, and that’s just the reality,” said Baltzell.

Lawmakers maintain it’s about efficiency, getting more money to the classroom and helping students, “and that’s the reason we’re talking about the bottom up funding, because then some of these things will play themselves out,” said Highland.

Lawmakers still have two years to develop a brand new finance formula, but they have to agree on something by 2017.

Whether or not merit pay will be part of that will ultimately be up to that special 15-member legislative committee.

Right now that committee is still in the process of gathering input from around the state.

The work on a new finance formula will really begin when the legislature re-convenes in January.

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